To the Editor:
The Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center (NVJDC) is a 70-bed secure juvenile detention facility located in Alexandria serving Alexandria, Falls Church and Arlington. The Sheltercare Program is a 14-bed, juvenile residential program which is also under oversight of the commission.
As executive director since 2002, I would like to particularly acknowledge Dorathea Peters and Lillian Brooks, the two members appointed by Alexandria, to the Juvenile Detention Commission for Northern Virginia (JDCNV). They are volunteers receiving no stipend for their time on the five-member commission.
Budgets: After Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks’ arrival, they authorized me to locate a sustainable source of revenue for the NVJDC and Sheltercare. I contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement-Division of Children Services (ORR/DCS), a program that holds undocumented juveniles while in the States. Sheltercare was in danger of closing due to funding issues. With Chair Peters advocating in Alexandria to get additional funding and ORR/DCS revenue, Sheltercare is now operating in the black. We have been informed that we are one agency funded by Alexandria that is decreasing its financial request. This shows recognition of the importance of financial responsibilities in managing government services.
Shift Schedule: Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks endorsed staff recommendations for a 12.5 hour work shift for our direct care employees, allowing them to work fewer days per month, more time with their family, reduced their commuting time and costs, and improved staff morale. We reduced overtime dramatically, which made a major impact in our funding requirements.
Salary Scale/Compensation Study: Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks requested a compensation study and implemented our salary scale. Our Sheltercare employees were finally compensated to be in line with other facilities after not receiving a merit or cost of living increase in many years due to the funding shortfall from Alexandria.
Facility Culture: Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks spent prolonged hours with me, my administrative team and all staff at the facility to learn and understand the needs necessary to support the practical changes to make the environment more productive and professional. The two commission members insisted on measures to improve the employee policy and procedure manual, personnel manual and clarified the grievance procedure.
The biggest change to the facility culture that these two commission members fostered was the values of openness, honesty, tolerance, fairness, trust and responsibility in social, moral and business matters and transparency and accountability in decision-making. Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks demanded that we reinstate an employee representative for the facility so the staff would have a voice at the JDCNV monthly meetings.
Sheltercare: Ms. Peters and Ms. Brooks were strong advocates for keeping the educational program at Sheltercare and accomplished what neither Sheltercare director, Sue Lumpkin, nor I could do. Recently, they initiated and negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding that was approved by the Alexandria City Public School Board.
I would like to thank Chair Dorathea Peters and Lillian Brooks for their strong leadership and support through these changes in my recent years as executive director.